This is such a sweet movie, and notably, Steve Carrell finally plays a character who isn’t all that nice.

The Way Way Back is a summer flick about growing up and discovering how to follow your own path. Duncan, played by Liam James, is so awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin that there’s no question ┬áhis adventures at the beach house are going to help me come of age. Straight away he has to deal with his mother’s boyfriend (Carrell) trying to forge a new family by sheer will and passive-aggressive bullying, he has to learn how to interact with girls his age, and his father’s absence looms as a mostly unspoken but present hurt. Meanwhile, his mother becomes steadily unrecognizable to him under the influence of her boyfriend and his pack of boozy buddies. None of it seems to be going very well, until Duncan meets Owen, played by Sam Rockwell, the eccentric owner of a water park and the most unlikely of role models.

This sounds like pretty standard stuff. It is. Except it’s really well done. The characters are well-rendered, the dialogue well-written and snappy, the acting nicely-done. Toni Collette, as Duncan’s mother, is spot on, as usual. Steve Carrell really is smarmy and unlikeable (if, from time to time, unbelievable). Rockwell’s character isn’t believable at all, but there’s no denying how endearing he is as an actor, and Rockwell himself remains a gift. Liam James: bravo, I felt awkward just looking at him. Looking back at the writing, you have to acknowledge that the script attempts to keep things complicated, giving characters bits of complexity even when you expect them to be two-dimensional, and a few easy wins are denied to the audience.

Still, this is what it is: a nice movie about coming of age in a troubled family situation at a beach house where reality becomes, momentarily, more than it usually is. So dont’ expect it to be a revelation. It’s as much a genre film as any flick about vampires. It just happens to be pretty damn well-done. Recommended when you want to smile on a Saturday night with a pint of ice cream.

One note: this film tries pretty hard, and does a good job, I think, to portray people with real bodies. For that, I applaud the filmmakers.